How To Start A Digital Marketing Agency From Scratch?

Portland digital agency

About the format of work


We call ourselves a “boutique” Portland digital agency. This means that each project has a personalized approach, prices are higher than average, and the team is small. From the very beginning, we didn’t want to build a “conveyor” agency. But there was no clear model of the team in my head, so, of course, we learned from our mistakes. And here’s what we realized.

Want Is A Boutique Agency? Recruit Experienced Professionals Or Outsource Tasks

Many consulting and marketing agencies grow professional staff from interns for 2-3 years, paying micro-salaries and motivating them to work overtime. But such a scheme does not suit the “boutique”: resources are needed for training, a training program and a knowledge qualification system, interesting projects and an understandable career path for money and responsibilities. Otherwise, all talented employees will leave, having reached the ceiling for the realization of abilities or salaries (as we did ourselves once). But the presence or lack of highly professional in-house hands will affect the LTV of projects – your main indicator of success. We were burned several times by the fact that more projects were sold than there was a qualified resource inside. Further – either the founders were sewn up, or the customers left. The decision lay on the surface: to negotiate with talented freelancers “on volume” or part-time. So, for example, we dramatically increased the level of design of client materials, and when there were many similar tasks, we took a person on the staff.


Download Sales Resources At The Same Time As Promoting The Agen

For a long time, I was engaged in both the promotion of the agency and sales alone – don’t do that! This is the path to hard burnout. Most of the requests that come to boutique agencies are from the “sundress”. The conversion rate at the conclusion of such a contract is high (we have about 30%), but this is always an expert sale, which requires time and intellectual resources.

Accordingly, I not only performed and received incoming requests, but also wrote commercial offers. Engaging in PR and partnerships in order to constantly increase the flow of requests, and at the same time to think over and register burning commercial offers, ahead of competitors, is extremely difficult, both emotionally and intellectually.

When the team took over the main effort in preparing and layout of proposals, the conversion into deals increased, and the deals themselves began to be concluded faster. Now the seller is not torn between traveling to new meetings and writing a commercial proposal for a multichannel strategy.

Where To Look For Clients


For the development of a small marketing agency, the “sundress” will primarily work.

When we were looking for cold clients through landing pages and contextual advertising, it was a complete failure.

Competition for the client in the auction is very high, and the conversion to contract is low. A client who, without bothering, clicks on ads in the search (and does not choose through ratings or acquaintances) is most likely looking for the cheapest solution. The ppc traffic experiment was one of the most painful in agency history.

And here are some of my successful speeches at conferences that pulled the “tail” of new appeals for a year and a half. Therefore, a good bonus would be the interest of at least one of the founders in public speaking. This can become both a channel for attracting customers and the basis of personal professional reputation (however, these two points are interconnected). Many strong freelancers and top agency executives are fighting to be invited to speak at a major professional event. The best performances can bring tangible reputation benefits in addition to the client flow: for example, I received an invitation to become a member of the Runet Prize jury after speaking at Russian Internet Week.

A personal brand also pulls up regular contacts to the agency – but keep in mind that if they came to you through a personal brand, most likely, the client will want to work with you personally. And if the person who built a personal brand in conjunction with the agency decides to leave, then the agency may lose a significant part of the leads.

Another find is to work with a permanent partner (or several) that complement the competencies of your agency. For us, a friendly web studio has become such a partner: we bring clients to them – and they bring us to us, and we often work on joint projects. For example, the development of a website for an advertising campaign synchronized with a partner saves a lot of nerves and money for all three parties: us, them, the client.

About working with large clients


Newbies often think that globally famous brands in their portfolio are a sign of the company’s big payoff. In fact, experienced agencies often go to tenders with large brands for the sake of PR: you work for prime cost (the corporation will almost always dump) – you make a beautiful case – put it in your portfolio, you advertise everywhere – you collect others for a show case and an “important” logo customers from this niche.

I think we were very lucky when the guys and I opened Control Digital. One large client worked so well with us as managers in the previous agency that he immediately decided to renew the contract with us (already co-founders). This is an illustrative story about the importance of a good human connection: no one lured away, no dumped, the decision was on the client’s side – and the company has been working with us for the 8th year already.

In reality, be prepared for your dream clients to be reluctant to change contractors. The chance to just walk in, “open the door with your foot,” push aside a competitor with the words “now you will see what real marketing is” – and get a contract – is minimal.

At the same time, it is not difficult to work with large clients – it is enough not to disdain small white-label orders on subcontracts from other agencies. This is a good way to learn the inner workings of responsible orders: the risks are minimal, but you can quickly get better at negotiations and understand how marketing campaigns work with many people.

But getting you to be invited to tenders and working directly is much more difficult. In this case, media coverage will help, for example, participation in ratings. How ratings work: you fill out a gigantic questionnaire of 10-20 pages with financial and business indicators, evidence of the team’s competencies, list clients, wait a couple of months more – and, if you have enough achievements, you are included in the selection of the best. Our getting into the TOP-70 SMM agencies in Russia in Tagline and RuWard – thanks to the cool case with AmRest, decent turnover of advertising budgets, a ton of speeches and publications in the press – brought regular invitations to the tender from large companies.

Advice to aspiring agency owners:


Make a case for PR right away. It is not enough to select the positioning – it must be confirmed. In public self-presentation, it is important to focus on projects that demonstrate a key service. And ideally – to make a case with which the agency will be associated – one on which you can brilliantly demonstrate your

Learn even more tips from this article, I hope it will help you along the way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *